The "Cult of Personality" in Philippine Politics

The cult of personality in Philippine politics has determined our political future with personalities that only think for themselves.


Politics is always a dirty, dirty playground for those who want to make a change in society and for those looking to rule like a medieval king. Oftentimes, politicians often choose the latter in the hope of overcoming term limits and ruling their town, city, or country forever. It doesn't hurt if they can transform their government position as a cash cow to enrich themselves and hopefully pass it down to their wives and children as if such a position is inherited. Can't help but say that politics is a family business here in the Philippines. It has been that way and it will always be!

The election season in the Philippines is as colorful as Christmas. Not to mention, it even comes earlier than expected when you already see a lot of election posters of politicians covering every nook and cranny of everything around you. You know for sure that the political circus is already in town even before the official campaign period should have started. At the end of the day, politicians would do whatever it takes to get your attention no matter what.

Sure, we take pride in the fact that the Philippines is considered the "first republic" in Asia during a time when most of our neighbors were ruled by foreign powers and absolute monarchs. Nowadays, partisan politics is the thing that is tearing us apart. We draw the battle lines on whether we support ours or them, whether we're "DDS" or "Dilawans/Pinklawans." At the end of any election, there are winners on one end and those who were "cheated" on the other end. No one admits losing.

So why are we still dealing with the same personalities from the same ruling class, long-standing family dynasties, and economic elites? We are still tied down by the patronage politics of our colonial past.

'Buhay PBA'

As they say, Filipino life revolves around three things: politics, basketball, and 'artista' (show business). Why? People follow political personalities just like betting on their favorite rooster in the cockfighting ring. Basketball is the most popular sport so you don't be surprised to see a lot of former professional and collegiate basketball stars throwing their ball in the political ring or see politicians owning basketball teams to gain public support. And of course, who can't deny the popular appeal of being on television and having their adoring fan support? There has been a lot of television and movie actors who tried to venture into politics while still active in the entertainment scene.

You will see a lot of crossovers with politicians becoming actors, basketball players becoming politicians, and of those combinations.

Many love their soap operas on television so it is not a surprise that in the run-up to the next election, there will be a lot of melodramatic scandals and investigations shown live on television. This is where people pick their side - support the bida or the contrabida. Oftentimes, investigations lead nowhere and no one gets prosecuted or imprisoned. Besides, even if these personalities face a litany of court cases or are successfully prosecuted and imprisoned, they end up running for office anyway. Even if they are supposed to be disqualified for public office.

When battle lines are drawn, some leading politicians take that opportunity to put themselves in the public spotlight so as to gain future voters. Such investigations will have revelations and conversations discussed on television with a mix of celebrity gossips and speculations with every twists and turns capturing everyone's imagination as the masses are glued to their TV. In the end, the common themes of betrayal, revenge, secret love affairs, whistleblowers, and bribery are put for public consumption.

Since getting elected is all about the plurality of votes, it pays to be the most popular political candidate. Of course, it doesn't hurt if you have the money and political network of politicians and popular sports and showbiz personalities on your side.

Party Politics

The Philippines followed party politics from the United States way back when. Prior to independence, there were only two major political parties that battled for political supremacy - it's the Nacionalista against the Progresista and later Democrata. Nacionalista imploded and was split into the Colectivista and Unipersonality factions.

By 1946, party politics exploded to a point that multiple political parties have emerged and competed in local and national posts. The newly-formed Liberal Party briefly supplanted the Nacionalistas from the top in 1949 and later in 1965. However, the Nacionalista remains the dominant political force in the country. Later, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan had a stranglehold of party politics during the Martial Law years.

By the time the country held its first elections after the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos, political parties have moved away from the parties of old. It embraced personalities, glitz, and glamor with all the political jingles, television ads, and entertaining sorties. Nowadays, you will see a lot of politicians forming their own parties if they can't get along with the established parties. Some 'independent' personalities are absorbed by other parties as 'adopted' candidates. They frequently change parties as fast as changing clothes in the closet and erstwhile political enemies become strange bedfellows.

There's a lot of mirror tricks and sleights of hand going on that most voters will find it difficult to choose while aspiring public servants would find it challenging to stand out.

Political parties are no longer as they used to be. There are no more party principles and ideals as the focus is concentrated on the personal agenda of the party leader and their allies. Politics is no longer run as a public service for the collective good. It has become more transactional so that money changes hands and favors are routinely given and taken away.

Boss Patronage

The Americans established an anomaly in political governance called 'colonial democracy,' where limited suffrage allowed some people from the general population to elect public officials. Oftentimes, the political candidates are from the old landed elites so voters don't have any alternatives that will push their collective agenda. The local elite became the building blocks of party mobilization along with their parochial interests and issues.

Under this political setup, the local elites dominated the electoral competition thereby allowing them to sow the seeds of political dynasties throughout the country. Municipal mayors were first elected in 1901 and then elections were gradually grown in scale so that provincial governors were elected in 1902 and then the national legislature was formed in 1907 thereby entrenching small-town and provincial 'bosses' in power.

These 'public servants' act like political bosses and the political machinery are run like those in criminal enterprises where they end up selling political favors to enrich themselves and perpetuate their political control by transforming it into a family business where spouses and children become OJT political apprentices and soon take full control of the whole operation by running for office themselves.

Omnipresence

Just like the cult of personality in Communist and authoritarian countries like that of Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, and other despots in history, Filipino politicians want to make sure that they are always put in a good light so that their faces are always plastered everywhere to make it look like that all public services that the people are enjoying are because of him. They put themselves on the pedestal like they own their domain and the people that lived on it.

But when election season comes, they try to be as accessible as possible by being seen as someone doing the same thing as the market vendor, construction worker, fisherman, farmer, and any ordinary Joe out there. They build up a narrative that they are just like the common man and showcase their rags-to-riches story.

It is difficult for a relatively-unknown personality to beat a corrupt system and win an election even with their well-thought platform and political plans. Even if that happens, the system will make them corrupt to the point of becoming the same political boss they sought to beat in the first place.

References:

"In the Philippines, celebrity, melodrama and national politics are deeply entangled," by Czar Dancel

"Personality Politics in the Philippines," by Joyce Ilas

"Pitfalls of Personality Politics," by Ruben Almendras

"Philippine Political Culture and Governance," by Cristina Jayme Montiel

"Take the Money and Run? 'Personality' Politics in the Post-Marcos Era," by John T. Sidell

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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: The "Cult of Personality" in Philippine Politics
The "Cult of Personality" in Philippine Politics
The cult of personality in Philippine politics has determined our political future with personalities that only think for themselves.
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